* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Book Effect
At this moment, news feeds are flooded with stories of disparity and division. On the heels of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, we are reminded that the gap between privileged and disadvantaged children is wider than ever. Tension between cultures is mounting, and the global cooperation of nations is at an all-time low. These realities are hitting low income countries hardest, where resources are too scarce to address diverse populations. While there are many efforts to address the world’s biggest challenges, key problem solvers are overlooking a powerful and proven tool – books.
Here’s the truth: Despite all we know about privilege, a child’s passion for reading is more predictive of their academic success than their family’s socioeconomic status.[i] Let me say that again: a child’s passion for reading is more predictive of their academic success than their family’s socioeconomic status. Children who develop a love of reading are more likely to read better, write better, build their vocabulary and comprehend more in their reading. Sharing books in a household and talking with children about these stories helps children stay healthy, be safe, be successful and supports their emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social health. People who develop a love of reading at an early age see lifelong benefits and are better able to care for themselves and their families as adults.[ii] Even more, reading children become reading adults who are more likely to be employed and able to contribute to local economies.[iii]
The benefits books offer to children and families ripple beyond the home and into communities where they live. When children are able to find themselves on the pages of books, they begin to find confidence in their own identity and their potential to contribute to society. At the same time, books that introduce children to the immense diversity of identities in the world can cultivate empathy, tolerance, respect, and a richer understanding and acceptance of other cultures. The unique ability of books to act as both mirrors that reflect our own identities and windows that introduce us to the experiences of others makes them a very valuable tool for the collaborative growth of communities and tolerant societies.
But creating diverse books for diverse populations of children is impractical for market-driven publishers and cost prohibitive for community-driven NGOs. In places that are remote, war-torn, or post-conflict, books and reading are often not a priority. As a result, there is today a massive book scarcity that is leaving millions of teachers and families without one of education’s most critical tools, and millions of children without the opportunity to fall in love with the characters of colorful storybooks.
To unlock the enormous multi-generational and societal benefits of reading, we need to work with communities to spark demand. At the same time, we must support the development of book ecosystems: networks of authors, illustrators and translators able to produce high quality children’s books that reflect local languages and cultures. Finally, in a digital age, we can and must use the power of technology to create equitable access to the transformative power of The Book Effect.
Morgan Belveal holds degrees in Children’s Studies, International Educational Development, and Human Development and is a program specialist for Let’s Read [LINK]– The Asia Foundation’s community and technology driven solution to book scarcity in Asia.
[i] Clark, C., & Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for pleasure: A research overview. National Literacy Trust. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
[ii] Sullivan, A. (2015). The life-long benefits of reading for pleasure. The School Librarian, 63(1).
[iii] The Center for High Impact Philanthropy. (2015). Invest in a strong start for children: High return on investment. The University of Pennsylvania.